Ed Carter Statement Regarding Corps of Engineers Plan
NASHVILLE --- Following is a statement by Ed Carter, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Executive Director, concerning the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan to limit boating access to tailwater areas within a specific distance of dams on the Cumberland River and its tributaries. The statement was made at a public meeting held Feb. 5 at McGavock High School in Nashville:
Lt Colonel DeLapp, thank you for the opportunity to speak. I’m Ed Carter, Executive Director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. I am offering remarks on behalf of the TWRA and the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission. Although I can’t definitely say that I’m also speaking for the State’s many fishermen and the associated industries with which they are affiliated, I do believe that our Agency view reflects the sentiments of the vast majority, if not all, of those groups.
I’d like to briefly touch on four areas: Safety, Recreation, Economics, and Liability.
I have some background in this area, serving as the TWRA Chief of Boating for 19 years before moving to the Executive Director’s position. I also served on a number of national boards including the National Boating Safety Advisory Council to the US Coast Guard, to which I was appointed to two terms by the Secretary of Homeland Security. I only mention that to point out that I’ve had the opportunity to study boating safety issues ranging from the viewpoint of a state boating safety officer to international issues brought forward by experts in many different fields.
I believe there is consensus that there are times and conditions in which recreational boats should not be operating in the areas immediately below dams. However, those conditions represent a very small percentage of time and the great majority of days are suitable for boaters, primarily fisherman, to utilize an area which represents some of the best fishing opportunities in the state.
As the Agency which investigates boating accidents in Tennessee, our records show that since 1978, there have been eight boating related deaths below Tennessee Corps projects. Five of those eight were not wearing a life jacket. Of the three who were wearing life jackets, one was an inflatable which the person did not inflate, the second did not have the jacket properly fastened, and the third person’s jacket came off for unknown reasons.
Those facts point out, to us, that the TWRA rule, enacted in 1989, requiring mandatory wearing of life jackets below dams is a sound regulation that can adequately address the concern in these areas. A restricted area imposed by Corps policy or regulation is not one that the TWRA can enforce and based on the letter our Commission instructed me to write, I am quite certain they would not consider such a rule in the future.
I do believe, however, the Commission would consider amending the rule so that only automatically inflatable life jackets, or traditional flotation devices, are the only acceptable kind allowed in the area in question.
I’ll spend just a moment here to say that tailwater fisheries are often high quality areas. The dams present barriers which sometimes concentrate fish during seasonal spawning runs. Bait fish may congregate in these areas which, depending on species, offer year-round fishing success. Because the distance from the dam is directly proportional to this type fishing, it would be heavily impacted if not lost, if these areas are no longer available.
TWRA biologists also utilize those areas to collect brood fish and other species as a part of our fisheries program. I’m uncertain, but I must make the assumption that a physical barrier would also prohibit our biologists from future use of those areas.
I approach the economics portion in two ways. There is little doubt that there would be a loss of revenue to local guides, bait shops, and similar small industries. I do not have specific figures on what the loss would be in total, but we believe it would be of significant local impact.
My further concern that the unbudgeted funds needed to implement a barrier system below dams will have a negative impact on on-going programs at Corps projects throughout the district. I would respectively ask that we be informed of what cutbacks to other programs would result in order to free funds for the barrier system.
I know that the Nashville District Corps of Engineers has been involved in litigation from accidents which have occurred in the tailwater areas. I do not take those incidents lightly. However, when I was Chief of our Boating Division, I was subpoenaed to testify in a federal case brought against the Corps involving two men who died below Old Hickory Dam.
A loss of life is tragic under any circumstance and families suffer as a result. However, in this case, the court took into account that neither person was wearing a life jacket and that the Corps had undertaken safety measures to prevent these type accidents from occurring. The result was no judgment against the Corps. While the outcome of any court case is always in question, my point is that adequate safety measures can result in not only a safer operation, but may be very significant in deciding the final verdict in court.
These areas below dams are of great significance to fishermen and I, again, thank you for the time to speak on this very important topic. I am asking that the Corps delay any program to restrict these areas until meaningful discussions have taken place to seek alternatives to the present proposal.
I will end by simply saying that I believe that we can positively address the safety, recreation, economics, and liability issues by enhancing current safety measures and thereby avoid a costly initiative that would result in the closure of some of the most important fishery zones in our state.